Mkhize: SA has measures in place to deal with COVID-19 variant found in India

While there are no direct flights from India to South Africa, there are fears that this variant could spread to the rest of the world fast.

FILE: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize visited Steve Biko Hospital on 19 January 2021, as part of an oversight tour of Gauteng's healthcare facilities. Picture: Boikhutso Ntsoko/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday said that while he shared the worries of South Africans about possible imports of COVID-19 variants, he believed that South Africa was a "very capable nation that knows how to deal with the burden of a variant of concern."

India is grappling with the B.1.617 variant, which is spreading fast and appears to be escaping immune response.

That country has over 20 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and the number increases daily, with more people seeking medical help while hospitals buckle under demand.

GRAPHIC: Inside the COVID-19 variant first identified in India

While there are no direct flights from India to South Africa, there are fears that this variant could spread to the rest of the world fast.

READ: NICD: Suspending flights from India won't prevent spread of variant to SA

Mkhize said that South Africans must guard against fear over the possibility of new variants being detected here on home soil.

He warned this fear could drive exclusion mistrust and even racist rhetoric.

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Just last year, a new COVID-19 variant was first detected in South Africa, which led to many countries banning flights from South Africa.

Mkhize said that the country's expert teams were on high alert to survey, detect and contain the spread of the coronavirus, with heightened awareness around travellers from countries where this new variant was dominant.

His spokesperson Lwazi Manzi said: “We have not detected the B.1.617 variant as yet in South Africa. For now, we ask for calm to prevail as we continue to adhere to health protocols… as we maintain a balance in our economic activity.”

The minister said that an air traveler who recently returned from India via Doha was in isolation at a health facility after falling ill, while two other people were currently asymptomatic and isolating after also traveling to that country.

"We have consulted the genomics teams and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 so that we can get scientific guidance on how to deal with any potential risk of importation of variants of concern and also to be guided by science on managing travellers that come from countries where variants of concern are circulating widely," the minister's spokesperson Manzi said.

Mkhize said that they would continue to adhere to the World Health Organization (WHO)'s protocols of early detection, contact tracing, testing and isolation.

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